Monday, January 31, 2011

44 BBY: Jedi Apprentice: The Rising Force

If it wasn’t for this little project of mine, I probably would’ve kept on ignoring Star Wars titles with the term “scholastic” attached to them, believing that since they’re children’s books they would most likely have nothing to offer an “academic” and “true” Star Wars fan like myself.
The Rising Force, the first book of twenty in the Jedi Apprentice series, set me straight.

Like Jude Watson in The Legacy of the Force, Dave Wolverton does well to keep his narrative simple and easy to follow. With an intended audience of 8-13 year olds, Wolverton does well to connect the young Obi-Wan Kenobi to his readers. I enjoyed this book as an adult, and I’m sure if I had read it as a child I would have enjoyed it even more. As it is, I’m looking forward to reading all twenty titles in the series, and exploring the backstory behind the friendship and Master/Apprentice relationship of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Since these books are only short narratives, I only have a few areas of observation I want to comment on. The areas of interest that caught my eye in The Rising Force are same sex Master and Apprentice duos, the treatment of the Jedi Corps within the context of this universe, and Obi-Wan's enlightenment.

One of the lines that jumped out at me at the start of the story was Qui-Gon’s words to Yoda about not finding a suitable apprentice. The Knight says to the Master: “There will be more boys next year. Perhaps then I will choose a Padawan” (34). What grabbed my attention here is that Qui-Gon said “boys”, as if the possibility of a female apprentice was out of the question. Which got me to thinking: is same sex pairing of Master and Apprentice the norm? This notion is immediately debunked with the pairing of Anakin and Asoka. But how often do we see a heterogeneous Master and Apprentice? I’m sure there are other male/female Master/Apprentice relationships in Star Wars history, but as of yet, from a chronological perspective, I don’t think there has been (correct me if I’m wrong).

Which brings up all sorts of other interesting questions; like, at what point does a Knight have to come to terms with his or her sexuality and how that might affect the way they choose a Padawan? Do Jedi come to terms with their sexuality? What I mean to say is this: If Qui-Gon knows he attracted to members of the opposite sex, does he then knowingly chose only male apprentices, or possibly female apprentices of a species he may not have a sexual attraction too? Is this one of the reasons why he would only consider boys as his apprentice?

Conversely, if a Jedi knows he or she is homosexual (why wouldn’t there be homosexual Jedi?), must they then consider this when choosing their new apprentice? Are Jedi even allowed to come to terms with their own sexuality, or must they simply figure it out on their own? After all, Padawans don’t remain Padawan’s forever, and at some point Masters and Apprentices will have to engage with each other as adults.

Maybe it’s important for Knights and Masters to come to a realization of their sexual leanings before they enter into a relationship which will test their own notions of attachment. Indeed, I’m sure most Master/Apprentice relationships test all Jedi. At some point a Master will lose an Apprentice, and at some point an apprentice will lose a Master. The added dimension of possible sexual attraction and love has to be considered when both embark on this mutli-year relationship.

I guess my question is this: must a Jedi Knight or Master practice prudence – in every sense of the word – when picking a Padawan? The obvious answer is ‘yes’. I also think a Master must look beyond an apprentices’ fear, or anger, or over-confidence like the way Qui-Gon was seeing Obi-Wan, and consider their own emotions first. In Qui-Gon’s defense however, one of the reasons he didn’t chose Obi-Wan as his apprentice right off the bat was because he was, indeed, considering his own emotions first.

Of course gender and sexual orientation might not be a factor at all when choosing a Padawan. Since a Jedi is supposed have their emotions in check and always be at peace, then gender or sexual orientation may play no part in this, which is the ideal. Such matters, in an ideal world – and the world Jedi strive to live in, should not concern a Jedi, as he or she mustn’t form attachments of any kind, with anyone, Padawan or Master included.

Or maybe Dave Wolverton simply wrote “boys” because he knew his intended audience would probably be predominantly boys, and I have just over-thought the matter.

Moving on to another question which was raised in the pages of this book: do they give all Agricorps Jedi lightsabers? On age 71 it says: “(Obi-Wan) made sure his lightsaber was holstered securely”. Which made me think ‘they gave him a lightsaber?!?’. I’m not sure why I was surprised by this but for some reason I was. I guess an Agricorp Jedi may need a lightsaber at some point, and it is true that the lightsaber is more than a weapon: it is a symbol of knighthood.

This brings me to my next point of discussion, and that of the Jedi Service Corps. What dismayed me in the pages of The Rising Force was the manner in which the Service Corps was viewed by younglings in the temple. On Wookeipedia it says: “many within the lower ranks of the Order saw assignment to the Corps as a demarcation” (wookieepedia on Agricultural Corps), and even Dan Wallace, in his end notes to his book the Jedi Path, muses as to how those who ended up in the Service Corps might be viewed by their contemporaries: “Not every student becomes a Padawan. Those that aren't selected by a Master for apprenticeship usually join the Jedi Service Corps. For a student, I imagine that this would be a huge disappointment. And that, consequently, Padawans, Knights, and Masters would inevitably think less of their comrades in the Service Corps. They'd deny it of course, and the best among them would keep it well-hidden. But the Jedi have ranks, and ranks hold power, and I can't imagine a scenario under which the Service Corps Jedi aren't treated as the outsiders of the elite.” Which lead me to ask the question: do the Master's themselves nurture within the culture of the Jedi temple a distain for those how are not picked as Padawan learners?

In the comment field of Dan’s blog people began to discuss this notion, with one reader by the name of Justin commenting: “Finally, my comment: I enjoyed your expansion of the Jedi Service Corps in the book. This is an aspect of the Jedi which has always been ill-defined and in need of exploration. You gave a dignity to them that had been lacking in the past and I disagree with your idea that they would be looked on as failures or outcasts. Perhaps haughty Jedi like Dooku or Anakin share that view, but I should like to believe that a religion (for lack of a better word) that views all life as sacred and worthy of protection and nurturing would hold its farmers and healers (possibly even child rearers) in the highest regard. Perhaps it is our conflict-centric view of the Star Wars galaxy that places the martial Jedi on the highest pedestal. Couldn't you imagine some conflict-weary Jedi wishing he or she could give up the life of negotiating (aggressive or otherwise) and retire to a life of tranquility on a farm planet somewhere? I'd love to see a story about an initiate that really WANTS to be selected for the Service Corps, but is chosen for what is (in his or her young mind) a life of drudgery policing the galaxy.”

I think what I most liked about Justin’s comment was his reference to our own “conflict-centric view” of “martial Jedi” being held in the highest regard. I think I asked this question myself in my post on The Battle of Bothawui, where Jedi Master Belth Allusis will always be remembered for his heroic sacrifice against the Sith, but I also asked about the Jedi that are not warriors. How will they be remembered? Are there statues erected in their honour? Does anyone in the Jedi Order praise Jedi X from the agricorps, and their use of the Force which saved a planet from starvation?

With all this being said however, I still think Dave Wolverton got it right. What 10-13-year-old Jedi youngling wants to be in the Jedi Service Corps? And what 10-13 year old boy or girls wants to read a story about some farmer Jedi? I know if I were Obi-Wan I’d probably be feeling the exact same emotions he is, and that is why I enjoyed this book. If I were 13 again, I’d defiantly want to be a Jedi Knight, and not some farmer who couldn’t cut it at the trials. However, with a little more wisdom behind me now, maybe the agricorps isn’t so bad. As I said to Dan: “I always think to myself: If the Star Wars universe were real, where would I end up? I think I would probably end up in the Jedi Corps, as the idea of combat completely frightens me. I'd rather be on some lush world growing wheat, or teaching young Padawans not picked by a Master how much good they can do for the universe through their Force powers and an active role in social justice.”

I think we need to respect the Jedi Service Corps a little more, and if there are indeed Jedi who would “think less of their comrades in the Service Corps” then it is those Jedi who need to re-evaluate for themselves what it means to be a Jedi.

My penultimate reaction to The Rising Force concerns Obi-Wan’s movement from youngling to Knight, for I think he skipped past the Padawan stage with this one moment of realization. After being rejected by Qui-Gon as an apprentice for the third or possibly fourth time, Obi-Wan finally gets it. He turns to his friend and he says: “I feel strange Si Treemba. It’s as if a burden has been lifted from me. Perhaps I could be a good farmer. And to be good… to be a good person is more important that being a Jedi” (123). It is here Obi-wan becomes a true Jedi Knight, for it is here he defeated his ego, his pride, and his desire – in every negative connotation for the word. His desire to be a Knight lead him to anger, fear, and aggression. When he accepted his fate, all those negative feelings faded away, and when he no longer passionately desired Knight-hood, then is when he truly earned it.

Finally, it was Obi-Wan’s final words to Qui-Gon in this story which took my breath away. When speaking of the Force and how it finally flowed through him unhindered, Obi-Wan said: “For years I thought myself unworthy of it (The Force). But it was not until I recognized my own unworthiness that the power began to fill me” (169). I had this moment myself a few years back. Just simply replace the words ‘The Force’ with ‘God’s Love’. I, like everyone else in this world, is unworthy of God’s Love. But he still gives us his love freely – we simply have to believe it, and then feel it.

For my next post I’m going to engage with the second book in the Jedi Apprentice series – The Dark Rival. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Miscellaneous Missings: 53-44 BBY

The story of Count Dooku (only to be called “Count” after his departure from the Jedi Order), is further flushed out in the pages of Jedi vs. Sith.

There are two small stories of interest in this period of Star Wars history. One deals with a Sith temple, and the other gives a small vignette of Dooku’s childhood, before the events of Legacy of the Jedi.
Pages 134-135 tell the story of Master Jedi Lanius Qel-Bertuk, and is an extension of the story of the Sith temple found on Almas, built by the Dark Lord Darth Rivan. Qel-Bertuk tells two stories of lost Jedi; the first being the story of Nerra Ziveri, the head master of the Jedi academy on Almas who went missing while exploring the temple’s secrets, and the second being the story Kibh Jeen, a Jedi consular who gathered maddening insight into the ‘rule of two’ and later died. (I briefly mentioned this story in my account of Star Wars history at 580-232 BBY, but I didn’t get into too much detail about it). What is most remarkable about this story is the post script after Qel-Bertuk’s tale. We are told that during the Clone Wars Qel-Bertuk retained his position as headmaster at the Almas academy despite the fact that he relinquished his lighsaber and refused to serve in the Republic army. After Order 66 the academy was destroyed and it was presumed Master Qel-Bertuk was killed, but his fate remains in question.

Here again is an awesome little corner of sandbox which is the Star Wars story. This little bit of info is ripe for exploration to anyone who wants to tell a small Star Wars narrative. What happened to Master Qel-Bertuk? In my opinion his actions were more ‘Jedi’ than any of those who fought in the Clone Wars. It’s good to know the Order is not full of warriors, but also comprises of brave pacifists who believe in an ideal and live-out the wisdom they teach.
Page 69 explains for us the telekinesis ability used by Jedi, and is accompanied by an excerpt from Dooku as a young Jedi Master. There is even a great picture with this story of a younger Dooku levitating some chairs for his students. Dooku tells the story of one of the first times he used his telekinetic ability. He was seven years old and has just crossed paths with Master Yoda. Yoda asked the boy to move a flower pot for him and young Dooku obliged. What Dooku didn’t know was that the soil in the pot was incredibly dense and heavy, but Dooku still managed to move it. Yoda was impressed with the young boy’s abilities, and left young Padawan with the hope that their paths would cross again. This was a neat little story of this duo’s origin.
On a side note, I’ve decided to complete my reactions to the Jedi Apprentice series and all points in-between before I move into the past once again with the novels Red Harvest and JJM’s new book Knight Errant. I feel like I want to take some more steps forward before I take a few steps back.
On a personal note, my wife gave birth to our second son on January 15th. His name is Joseph and he was a healthy 7lbs. One forgets how insane it is to bring a newborn home. Our three year old son Peter has reacted well to him, and is relishing the role of big brother. So my already busy life has become even more active. Still, it is my hope to post a little more, as the first semester at work is nearly at an end, and the second semester gears up. Also, the Jedi Apprentice books are short and easy to read.
For my next post I’m going to engage with the Jedi Apprentice series and start with book 1 titled The Rising Force. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

44 BBY: Star Wars Tales Volume 4: The Secret of Tet-Ami

One of the aspects I like about Star Wars over Star Trek is the absence of time-travel (among other things).

Time-travel always irritated me in Star Trek, because I always wondered if I was watching the most interesting reality the universe of Star Trek had to offer.

I remember watching an episode where the Enterprise had entered some space-time continuum and came into contact with a bunch of other Enterprises from different timelines. One of them was captained by Riker, and was a super-militarized version of the Enterprise due to its constant war with the Klingons. I don’t remember the details of the episode, but I remember my reaction to that scene; I felt ripped-off, like I had been watching the pansy version of The Next Generation for years, when all the while there was this alternate reality where the Federation was at war with the Klingon Empire. I was like ‘what the hell?!? Why aren’t we watching THAT reality?!?’s looks Waaaaay more interesting!’ From that point on all time-travel episodes ticked me off, because I just wasn’t convinced was watching the coolest version of the Star Trek universe.

In the Secret of Tet Ami, we have our second story where time travel has infected the Star Wars universe (the first being Crosscurrent). I hate time travel stories. They bother me.

Anyway, Mace Windu manages to close a time paradox he himself created thousands of years in the past (he stilled killed a bunch of things in this story, so don’t worry about that). The punch line of the narrative being Yoda’s comment that a Jedi must always finish what he starts.
Hopefully this is the last time travel story.

For my next post I’m going to take on the story The Rising Force, which is the first book of the Jedi Apprentice series. I’ve ordered all 20 books and they should be arriving in the post this week. With regards to Red Harvest, I have it on hold at my local library (they have yet to get it in from order), and when I get my hands on it and read it I’ll do a quick write-up. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

47-45 BBY: Star Wars Tales Volume 4: Children of the Force

It seems that Mace Windu is full of contradictions.

Standing in a nursery full of future Jedi, Mace Windu defends the practice of taking infants from their parents to his padawan. Depa, who after just finishing her first “extraction” mission, feels uncomfortable with the ancient practice, and looks to her Master for some wisdom and a reasoned defense of what she’s just done. It seems her conscious is not sitting well with her: “I wonder if perhaps it is cruel to take a child away from its parents like this?” She asks her Master. Mace’s response is even and factual: “A Jedi’s path must be singular and focused. There is no room for emotional attachments. The edict of the order isn’t arbitrary. It exists as such for a reason”. Mace explains why emotional attachments are dangerous for a Jedi, as such powerful emotions can lead to the darkside. Mace has reason, tradition, and ultimately, the law behind him.

Mace’s words echo those of Jedi recruiter Morrit Ch’Gally from 990 BBY: “We Jedi firmly believe that Force strong beings have a right to receive the best raining available, and our way requires the shunning of emotional commitment, especially toward one’s birth family. Yet something that seems self-evident to us has been characterized as monstrous in the HoloNet. I admit that while we recruiters are vital to the continuation of the Order, we don’t do much to burnish the Order’s reputation”. Ch’Gally also explains how the law is behind the Order: “Within the Republic, the Jedi Order has the legal authority to take custody of Force-sensitives, and some Masters have argued that the Force’s presence in a child indicates the child’s consent to join the Order even before he or she is able to speak”.

Mace’s argument is one for the greater good, one that places the needs of the many over the needs of the individual. Depa defers to her Master’s wisdom. Perhaps she is not convinced, but she is willing to be open to Mace’s answer.

Once the Jedi have left the nursery, it is invaded by a Zeltron bounty hunter. She has been hired at the behest of one of the child’s parents who want their infant returned. The hunter takes a young Sullustian, and upon her exit runs into Mace. After a brief confrontation Mace regains possession of the child, wherein the bounty hunter climbs her high horse of morality, and asks what gives the Jedi the right to do this. What gives Mace the right to separate a child from its parents?

Surprisingly, Mace is moved by the hunter’s words, and in a complete 180, returns the child back to his parents, thereby undercutting all his words to his padawan at the start of this story. A hypocritical act if you ask me.

I wonder, does Mace even believe what he preaches?

But is Mace a hypocrite, or simply a man who regrets the life that was chosen for him?: “Mace – while we know we are forbidden to make contact with you, we would like to see our son just once. Please. Your loving parents”. Mace looks back at the mother and child he has reunited once again, and deletes the message from his parents.

Mace Windu: A complicated man, and an even more complicated Jedi.

47 BBY: Star Wars Tales Volume 4: Survivors

The story of Mace Windu becomes further problematic in the story Survivors.

We’ve moved ahead 9 years in Star Wars history, to a 23 year-old Mace Windu.

What do you do if you are faced with a known killer; a known architect of mass genocide; one who not only got away with murder, but gave the word ambition and life; with weapon in hand, and believing you have no way to bring this evil creature to justice? What do you do?

If you are Mace Windu, the answer is easy. You kill him.

Haunted by the spirits of now extinct sentient races, Windu is lead to an unknown world to confront Uda-Khalid – an evil man who had mastered the art of civilization destruction, and a being who has learned to cover his tracks: “There was no evidence of what he’s done. No clue to trace his guilt. No reason to suspect him”.

“No one ever gets away with murder” declares Mace Windu to Uda-Khalid – and he means it.
Mace, you are a Jedi my friend – defender of life – the upholder of justice – the believer of an absolute truth.

Or are you?

What do you do Mace, when he pulls a weapon on you, bent on killing you? Do you fall to form zero, seeking a peaceful solution? No, of course not, that’s foolish and idealistic. Ideals have no room in the reality of the situation before you.

Do you maim your opponent, arrest him, and bring him to justice? But wait – that’s right – there is no evidence to convict. He’s done well to hide his crimes. There is no court that is able to convict him. Ghosts can’t take the witness stand. This is what you know to be true.

Do you sever his hand Mace? Do you knock him unconscious and figure out what to do with him alongside your colleagues in the Force? Do you pull him before the council and engage in dialogue, seeking a peaceful and judicial answer? No, or course not, that’s too much work.
So what do you do Mace? What’s left? I guess the only response you have left is to cock your saber back and plunge it into a heart of darkness.

You did well Mace. You saved lives. You brought justice, and, more importantly, you served revenge.

But are you a Jedi?

58 BBY: Star Wars Tales Volume 4: Stones

One of the reasons I’m so excited to finally enter the Prequel Trilogy era is that I get to encounter a whole new set of ‘firsts’. The ‘first’ in this case is the first time Mace Windu enters Star Wars history.

Windu enters Star Wars history as a cocky 14-year-old padawan learner who has yet to make his own saber. Windu’s comment that he has yet to make a saber and has his Masters concerned by this is interesting because it raises the question ‘at what age is a padawan expected to make their saber?’. In Legacy of the Jedi, Dooku was still using a training saber at the age of 13 and like Windu he was the top of his class. I guess the unusualness of Windu not having a saber at 14 could be accounted with the idea that a padawan doesn’t make a saber until their Jedi skills match the ability to use a real one, and therefore, Windu could have made a saber earlier but chose to hold back so he could find the right crystal – as this story implies.

Which brings up another interesting question: is the desire to be unique “Jedi” in its motivations? It seems to me Windu has a very strong desire to be unique, to set himself apart from other Jedi. He says himself that he was arrogant and cocky, but wouldn’t his purple saber always be a symbol of this mindset? Of course we all know the ‘real reason’ for Windu’s purple blade – Samuel L. Jackson’s desire to be different. It seems like Mace Windu the Jedi Master has unwillingly adopted this character trait from – what is to him – an equally fictional character.

Yet there is hope for Mace. Although he begins his saber crystal quest with arrogance and a little too much self-sureness, he learns a valuable lesson on humility and respect. All is not lost with the young pupil of the Force just yet.

As it is, Mace Windu is a most complex character. I’m looking forward to uncovering his complicated and faceted story, and watching as Mace Windu becomes more intricate and ambiguous as time goes on.

Every good hero needs a tragic flaw, and in this first encounter with Mace Windu I think his is rather evident.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

89-76 BBY: Legacy of the Jedi

Are Sith Lords made, or are they born? I think in the case of Count Dooku, the latter is true.

After thousands of years of galactic Star Wars history I have finally broken into the century of the prequel trilogy and now find myself at the year 89 BBY. I’m excited to flush out the nitty gritty details of this era and explore in detail the stories of the great Jedi knights and masters of this period.
Legacy of the Jedi is a great little book written by Jude Watson that explores some of the backstory of Count Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. With children as his intended audience, Watson does well keeping his narrative simple and easy to follow.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to ignore my own advice and only deal with the first two narratives of this book; namely, the story of Dooku as a boy and the master/apprentice relationship of Dooku and Qui-Gon. I know I said I was going to comment on Legacy of the Jedi in its entirety, but after reading the third part of this book and the story of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan I decided I wanted to deal with that story in its proper context – between Jedi Apprentice #8 and the trade paperback The Stark Hyperspace War. It’s a meaty enough story over 100 pages that probably deserves its own post anyway.

Looking at the first story in this book, I enjoyed Watson’s characterization of Dooku as a boy. At first I thought that he had dropped the ball with Dooku’s characterization because I felt that the 13 year old padawan Dooku was no different from the Dooku we first meet in Attack of the Clones. After reading the story I thought ‘Where was the child here? Where was the young boy?’. Minus a few tales of mischief between Dooku and Lorian, it seemed like Dooku was 13 going on 45. However, after thinking about this I realized that Watson’s sketch of Dooku was spot on. Dooku was never a child; he was an adult trapped in a child’s body, carrying the ‘wisdom’ of Jedi Master, all the while maintaining an almost constant control of his emotions – that is, or course, until he doesn’t.

This is a great story which gives us an indication of the workings of Dooku’s mind. What’s interesting about Dooku as a boy is that when we first meet him he’s already working without a moral framework. It seems Dooku’s actions are not defined by what is “right” or “wrong”, but by the perceived rewards or punishments such actions would produce. When talking about the plot to steal the Sith holocron, Dooku’s ‘frienemy’ Lorian rightly points out to the star padawan: “ ‘If you could do it without the risk of getting caught, you would do it’. Lorian said. ‘So the fact that it’s wrong isn’t really the reason you won’t. Maybe you’re not the true Jedi you think you are’” (pg 7).

Additionally, although it was not directly stated in the book, it’s apparent that Dooku bought-in to the mentality of Jedi elitism – even if the Jedi reject such a notion themselves. Dooku always believed because he was strong with the Force he should be treated differently. It also seemed he enjoyed being on Senator Blix Annon’s luxury cruiser as a Jedi Knight – even if such a mission was “beneath him”. He was not impressed with luxury, but did “appreciate elegance”. I verily picture Dooku moving regally through the ship, his cloak flowing with his movements.

As I said at the beginning of this post, it seems to me Sith Lords are born, not made – at least in the case of Dooku. Even going through the teachings of the Jedi Order, which place humility and servitude as virtues, Dooku cannot help but respect strength and power, while distaining those who are feeble. When speaking of the Alains and their current political situation, Dooku says: “ Then they are also weak, which is worse” (79). It’s a testimony to the strength and abilities of Qui-Gon to be able to filter out the teachings of his wayward master, even dismissing his master’s final words to him: “You are always alone, and betrayal is inevitable”(98).

The story of Qui-Gon’s tutelage under Dooku was noteworthy, as at times it seemed like Qui-Gon was the master, while Dooku was the apprentice. If not for his student, Dooku would have easily given into his temptation to kill his old enemy Lorian when he had the chance: “His Padawan had revealed to him what he should have known already. He could not go down this road” (94). Qui-Gon also had no hesitation taking his master to task: “ ‘So what did you learn from the mission Padawan?’ he asked Qui-Gon… ‘That you will withhold facts from me that I need to know’” (95).

For my next post I’m going to look at Tales #13: Stones found in Star Wars Tales volume 4. I know Joe has listed the first chapters of the novels Order 66 and Millennium Falcon, along with some flashbacks from Prelude to Rebellion and the story of Jango Fett in his timeline between these sources, but I think I’m going to engage with Order 66 at the end of 36 ABG – the last source before 37 ABG, and Millennium Falcon at 42 ABY as a retrospective on the ship we all know and love (I’m probably going to the same with the Chewbacca TBP as well). As for the flashbacks in Prelude to Rebellion and Open Seasons, I’ll deal with those at their proper dates, and comment on the flashbacks if need be. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.